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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, on March 23rd, 2016.

shrimp_toast

Chinese in origin (I think), these little appetizer tidbits of goodness are quite easy to make. What they’re not is healthy in any way, shape, or form! There’s nothing bad in the ingredients – it’s just the frying that makes them rich, decadent, but ever-so tasty.

This appetizer is the oldest cooking class recipe I have in my collection. In fact, I didn’t even have this one entered into my MasterCook program – mostly because I hadn’t made these for about 40 years. Gosh, that one fact tells you I’m “old.” When I married the first time, way back in 1962, my then husband and I lived in Washington, D.C. for about a year. I worked for the Dept. of Agriculture during that time, and spending money on cooking classes wasn’t exactly within my budget. Then we moved to Washington State for awhile, then to Denver. It was there, back in the mid-60’s that I went to my first cooking class. I have no recollection how I found out about the class (given in someone’s home), and I still have 2 recipes from a class (or maybe more than one class). This one, and a chile relleno recipe made with canned chiles. Interestingly enough, both of the recipes were cooked in an electric frypan. Those things were very popular back then. So maybe both were made that one night and the class could have been focused on how to use the electric frypan in meal preparation. The recipe, stained with age and use (way back then) had somewhat cryptic notes – not a full-on detailed recipe as we might be used to today.

A few weeks ago – when I made these – I had a Vietnamese friend of mine come to my house and prepare a Vietnamese meal for a group of my friends. I’ll tell you about that in another post. She made spring rolls and beef pho (soup, pronounced like fuh). I rounded out the meal with appetizers (these shrimp toasts) and dessert (my lemon velvet ice cream and safari seeded cookies). So, when I was trying to figure out what to make I first searched online for Vietnamese appetizers, and mostly google came up with spring rolls. Well, we were already doing those as a first course, so I had to search farther afield, and ding-ding, this recipe came to mind. Even though it’s Chinese, not Vietnamese. Made no “never mind,” as the saying goes. They disappeared in a flash.

I forgot to take any photos of the prep process, or the frying. I was kind of busy trying to get these made just as guests were arriving, so just didn’t take the time. Here’s what’s involved. First you mince up some fresh, raw shrimp, about 1/2 cup. Then you add a couple of tablespoons of minced green onion, a dash of salt, a tablespoon of sherry (wine), a tablespoon of cornstarch and lastly, just before you’re ready to start making and frying these, 2 egg whites that have been beaten up until foamy.

shrimp_toast_mustard_dipI made these a couple of nights later and used the same recipe – I just didn’t turn the little toasts over to brown the other side – so here you can see the bread (on the bottom) is still just bread. And I didn’t heed my own directions – of spreading the shrimp mixture out to all the edges, so you see the bread in the oil almost got too brown. White bread slices are used – remove the crusts, then the inner portion is cut into small squares, about 1” square. You’ll get about 6 out of each slice of bread. Meanwhile, you heat up a frying pan with oil. You don’t need but about 1/4 inch of oil. I have a nice big newer electric frypan now, and I used that because you can maintain a consistent 350° with the oil – the recipe called for peanut oil, but that stuff is so darned expensive these days, I opted to use vegetable oil instead. It takes about 10 minutes to heat the oil. Then, using a spreader/knife, you spread some (a fairly tiny dab, actually) of the shrimp/egg white mixture onto the top of the little square of bread, and each one is placed shrimp side down into the hot oil.

It takes about 30 seconds for the shrimp to be done – and the edges begin to turn golden brown. In the first batch I did fry them on the other side. If you want to reduce the amount of fat you would consume with these, just cook the shrimp side only. The bread, which is not in oil at all will still be soft. You could try it that way and taste it. Do let them cool for a couple of minutes before eating them, as they’re WAY hot! You can make these in bigger squares (like 4 per slice of bread) but I think the little bitty ones make for easier finger food. Do serve napkins as they might ooze some oil onto your hands.

In the 2nd photo you can see the mustard dipping sauce. You don’t have to use the sauce, but it was pretty darned good. It added a little “bite” to the toasts.

What’s GOOD: crunchy, tasty, little bites of shrimp goodness. Don’t use canned shrimp! I loved these things, but they’re full of fat. The nutrition info below doesn’t include the oil I cooked them in – so am sure it’s higher in calorie and fat than indicated. Don’t serve too many per person – they’re very filling.

What’s NOT: just that they must be made immediately before serving. The recipe said they can be reheated, but no, sealed up in foil they won’t be anywhere near as good (and crunchy) as fresh out of the frying pan. You don’t have to use an electric frypan – it’s just harder to maintain an even heat using a small frying pan over a flame.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp Toast with Mustard Dipping Sauce

Recipe By: From a cooking class I took in the 1970s
Serving Size: 8

6 slices white bread — crusts removed, cut into 1-inch squares (use day-old, preferably)
FILLING/TOPPING:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons green onions — finely minced
1/2 cup fresh shrimp — (or crab) minced
1 tablespoon sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons salt — (optional)
2 whole egg whites — beaten until foamy
Peanut oil for frying (about 1/2 cup) – or vegetable oil
HOT MUSTARD SAUCE:
3 tablespoons dry mustard
rice wine vinegar – add enough to make a wet dipping sauce

1. FILLING: Combine all ingredients except the egg whites and mix thoroughly. Everything must be minced up finely. Just before you’re ready to start frying, add foamy egg whites and mix in gently, but thoroughly.
2. Prepare frying pan. Ideally, heat an electric skillet to 360° and add enough oil to about 1/4 inch deep. You may also use a neutral oil, but the peanut oil imparts a lovely flavor.
3. Spread the filling on top of each toast piece and spread to the edges.
4. When the oil is hot, fry the toasts filling side DOWN until the edges have turned golden brown, about 30-45 seconds. It’s not necessary to fry the other side, but if you prefer, you can, but it won’t take long. Remove toasts and drain on paper towel for about 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, mix up mustard sauce by combining the dry mustard with rice wine vinegar until it’s the consistency of a slurry. Place in a small flat plate or a wide, but small bowl for dipping.
6. Serve toasts hot with the mustard sauce.
7. LEFTOVERS: They can be reheated in foil a 300° oven for about 10 minutes – but they won’t be crispy.
Per Serving (doesn’t include the little bit of oil that will be absorbed into the toasts during frying): 88 Calories; 1g Fat (15.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 537mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on March 23rd, 2016:

    This is how they are generally made over here –

    http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/22463/prawn-toasts.aspx

    I have eaten them in Chinese restaurants but have never thought of making them myself.

    Well, they’re very similar, I think. My biggest concern is the bread soaks up way too much oil – I suppose it might depend on exactly what temp it was – I think there is a magic temp for different types of ingredients when they (supposedly) don’t soak up much oil at all. But maybe bread is one of those that soaks it up no matter what temp! I don’t know. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 25th, 2016:

    This brings back great memories of eating in Chinese restaurants in Nebraska in my teens and later when my own kids were growing up. I don’t see it on menus as often these days. I only had it a few times, but I loved it! I miss those restaurants, too. One looked like a Chinese temple–the roof was of golden tiles imported from China, and there was a stream with goldfish in it running right through the dining room. It was beautiful, there was table service, and the food was great. I don’t remember the shrimp toast being greasy, but it’s hard for me to imagine how it would not soak up the oil.

    That restaurant sounds so interesting – none of the ones my family went to were quite so unusual, but we did frequent one in San Diego, back then (this would have been from about 1945-55) that had lots of black scroll work separating the red naugahyde booths, and we always had the same thing every time, eggs fu yung or pork chow mein, sweet and sour pork, soup and rice. I hadn’t thought about that restaurant in years. They didn’t have shrimp toast on their menu, and I don’t think I’ve seen it on any Chinese restaurant menu in the intervening years. . . carolyn t

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